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WNC Business

2023 ATHENA Henderson County award recipient announced

May 21, 2023 11:00AM ● By Randee Brown

The Henderson County Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Business and Professional Women’s Luncheon, a program of ATHENA International, at the Blue Ridge Community College in May. Hendersonville’s Mayor Barbara Volk opened the ceremony welcoming women leaders of the community. She said the program’s committee works to do more than celebrate one recipient and has broadened its reach to include two annual women’s leadership breakfasts and monthly Empower Hours for the area’s women professionals.

Roxanna Pepper, a former ATHENA award recipient gave the invocation, and shared affirmations repeated within the crowd including “I look good, I feel good, and I am good.”

Co-Founder Andrea Little Gray, daughter of Vanessa Y. Mintz, shared her joy in continuing her mother’s legacy. Gray said her mother taught her to never step on someone else to make yourself higher, but instead look beside yourself and link arms with those people. She said fostering care for family and community is a priority and using the strength of each other is working together is what ATHENA is all about. The award ceremony, she said, is a way to shine a light on the change-makers in the community.

Kimerly Hinkleman, Chair of ATHENA in Henderson County, introduced this year’s speaker Johnna Reed, UNC Health Pardee’s Chief Administrative Officer. Hinkleman said Reed is a warm and caring wonderful woman who brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to Pardee, and displays all aspects of Athena through her commitment to serving others.

Reed spoke of her home in Sweetwater Texas and the little “nudges” that showed her along the way of her life’s journey. She attended Texas State Technical college where she went to nursing school as well as witnessed the all-female WASPs annual homecoming. “It was such an inspiration to see these women who fought in WWII, right alongside my father,” she said.

Working in Lubbock, TX, Reed said she loved nursing and learned how to bring her spirit into what she does. “It was more of a calling, not a vocation,” she said. She witnessed a patient’s passing, and also witnessed her come back to life for 10 hours. She said the patient asked for a pen and paper to describe her experience, prompting Reed’s creation of a support group, near-death experience research, and changing the hospital’s curriculum in how employees are trained in the importance of language and conversations.

Reed’s career also took her to Dallas, TX where she helped to implement a heart and lung transplant program, after which she began her own company. She later relocated to Greenville, SC after taking an online ‘where should I live’ quiz, visiting the city, then accepting a project for work in the area.

Reed said she later felt called to Pardee, noting the company is truly all about neighbors taking care of neighbors. She said the staff is 85% female, and it’s frequent to see women working all day, taking care of their children, then going to school at night after putting their children to bed. This reflected her own life, noting that there wasn’t time for much other than work during most of her career. She said she had wanted to go back to a time when she could have friends, meaningful conversations, and more time to be herself.

Sharing photos of her family, Reed said she is grateful and has landed where she is meant to be.

The legacy Reed said she hopes to create is to have done things she never envisioned, but were put in the right place at the right time. She said she hopes to have paved the way for other women to lift each other up and make the world a better place.

 ATHENA committee member Donna Moore presented each nominee and said all nominees are winners. Nominees included:

  • Dr. Amy Siegler of LimbTech
  • Ashely Sandahl of Excuse Us While We Succeed
  • Cheryl Stuller of Stuller Power Solutions
  • Crystal Cauley of Black History Collective of Henderson County
  • Dorothy Case of Henderson County Public Schools (retired)
  • Julie Huneycutt of Hope Coalition of Henderson County
  • Lyndsey Simpson of LS Creative
  • Margina Baxter of Children and Family Resource Center
  • Sherrie Stokes of the Salvation Army of Henderson, Polk, and Transylvania Counties
  • Vanessa Gilliam of Nessa’s Young’Uns Natural Play Center

Adriana Chavela of Hola Carolina and recipient of the 2022 ATHENA award said she had the deepest gratitude for ATHENA and is happy to continue the journey and empower each other. Chavela presented the 2023 Athena award to Julie Huneycutt.

Huneycutt said there is so much wisdom in the room, and she is surprised and grateful for the award and is grateful to be a part of a great, special community.

Dr. John Bryant of UNC Health Pardee shared closing remarks, including “Remember to straighten each other’s crown. Do it with glee and courage and with a compassionate heart.”